In Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics, cultural critic Bell Hooks argues that "no one seems to know how to tell the story" of white men romantically involved with slave women because long ago another story supplanted it: "that story, invented by white men, is about the overwhelming desperate longing black men have to sexually violate the bodies of white women." Narratives of white exploitation and black solidarity have made it difficult to imagine consensual sex and impossible to imagine love of any kind across the color line in the plantation South. Hooks predicted that the suppressed story, if told, would explain how sexuality could serve as "a force subverting and disrupting power relations, unsettling the oppressor/oppressed paradigm" (57-58). By rethinking and reimagining the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, contemporary novelists, filmmakers, and historians have exposed this "suppressed story," the bare bones of which were first made public in 1802 by journalist James Callendar during Jefferson's first term as U.S. President and then covered up by professional historians for almost 175 years.

Document Type


Publication Date


Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2011 Lodel. This article first appeared in Transatlantica: Revue d'Etudes Americaines 1 (2011), 1-10.

Please note that downloads of the article are for private/personal use only.